Why are effective listening skills important? Simple. Most of what we do or don’t do (the way we act and respond to others) is based upon our understanding of the messages that have been conveyed to us. In “real world” terms, misunderstanding can cost us time, money, credibility, and even relationships. Conversely, accurately received messages create comfort, confidence, and appreciation in the minds of others, from friends to coworkers to customers.
Effective listening has three modes: attentive listening, responsive listening, and active listening. Understanding these modes will help you increase your listening accuracy and reduce the opportunity for misunderstanding.
Attentive listeners focus on the speaker and work hard to eliminate distractions (such as ambient noise or poor delivery skills). They are also patient and let the speaker finish their thoughts without interruption. While not easy, attentive listening is essential for effective communication.
Responsive listeners demonstrate to the speaker that they are listening and understanding what is being said, which encourages the speaker to continue. Encouraging responses may include both nonverbal and verbal cues:
- Appropriate facial expression
- An affirmative nod of the head
- Good (appropriate) eye contact
- Minimizing distractions (turning off cell phones, etc.)
- Taking notes (under-utilized way to broaden the depth of learning)
- Leaning slightly towards the speaker
- “I see”
- Occasionally repeating or paraphrasing short phrases to show what you’ve heard
Active listening is probably the most important listening skill. It is “active” because it combines the skills of listening and responding without invalidating the speaker’s comments, giving the speaker personal opinions, advice, or trying to draw ownership of the conversation away from the speaker.
An active listener monitors the communication of a message at both the content and feeling level. They pay attention to what people say, how they say it, and why they’re saying it. Then, once the listener feels they understand the sender’s message, they paraphrase it back to the speaker to ensure understanding prior to responding with their own answer or message. The listener’s goal is to first understand the messenger’s thoughts, feelings, and needs and then send them back for verification of accuracy before proceeding. When paraphrasing, it is important to use your own words; don’t just simply parrot back what the messenger said.
Utilizing these three modes of listening will make you a more effective listener and, in turn, a more effective communicator.